Bridging the Divide: Water Wheel’s New Tribal Jurisdiction Paradigm

Winter King, Eric Shepard, & Rob Roy Smith, Bridging the Divide: Water Wheel’s New Tribal Jurisdiction Paradigm, 47 Gonz. L. Rev. 723 (2012)


Few legal issues are more perplexing to judges, legal scholars, Indian tribal governments, and Indian reservation residents than the scope of tribal jurisdiction over defendants who are not tribal members. The search for a simple analytical tool to determine whether and when an Indian tribe may regulate, and in other cases haul into tribal court, a non-Indian defendant has proven elusive for over a century of jurisprudence, perhaps, until now.

In June 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided Water Wheel Camp Recreational Area, Inc. v. LaRance, a case arising from a tribal court suit brought by the Colorado River Indian Tribes (“CRIT” or “Tribes”) to evict a non- Indian company and its non-Indian owner/operator who had refused to vacate tribal property after their lease expired, and to recover back rent and damages. Out of these seemingly mundane facts, involving one Indian tribe’s legal efforts to seek a basic remedy for significant economic losses caused by the defendants’ unlawful occupation of tribal lands, comes one of the most significant tribal jurisdiction rulings since 1981.

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